Could your model railway come to life?

Well, it did for Mark Scott-Pearson in a wonderful series of books by Ray Pope!

When Mark, a young boy with an extensive model-railway in the attic of his parents’ house in the Cotswolds, finds a tiny, perfectly formed, jumper on one of his station benches, it leads to the discovery that his railway has much more life than he ever thought possible.

Telford, the jumper’s owner, is the one-inch-tall OO gauge leader of the ‘model-railway men’ ! He’s also the hero of this series of books written by Ray Pope and, sadly, only available these days by scouring the online book sellers. Copies are hard to come by, but if you can get them, they’re well worth it.

The first book,’ The model-railway men’, mixes the story of the discovery of the OO gauge family with lots of tips and tricks about running a model railway properly. It’s an easy read and in the other nine books in the series, Mark and his new little friends share many railway adventures, not just in the Cotswolds but from North Wales to the USA via Holland!

I wonder if anyone else remembers this great series of books? Time for a re-issue I think, come on Amazon!

The full list of books

  1. The model-railway men
  2. Telford and the American visitor
  3. The model-railway men take over
  4. Telford’s holiday
  5. Telford and the Festiniog Railway
  6. Telford saves the line
  7. Telford goes Dutch
  8. Telford tells the truth
  9. The model-railway men in America
  10. Telford and the prairie battle

Trans-Europe Cafe (Glasgow)

Attracted by the TEE (Trans European Express) branding that struck a nostalgic chord within me (see below), we decided to sample this central Glasgow cafe at the weekend. Unsure of what we would find inside, we were very pleasantly surprised to discover a wonderful atmosphere, coupled with great food and, no less, board games available to play while you drink your coffee…

I remember a book I had as a child – the Ladybird Leaders book of trains – that had a striking, red and cream liveried train on the front cover. (It was a TEE-DE-IV, for those of you who like details.) TEE is a former network of InterCity express trains in mainland Europe.

The cafe’s menu reflects the pan European nature of the TEE with meals and snacks named after cities – Madrid, Berlin and the like. And it’s structured like an old railway departures board with slots to change the items on the menu – in the same way that a train to Barcelona, say,  might have been announced! The staff are very friendly, and they have a great selection of board games to play as you eat / drink.

So, if you’re in Glasgow and you like trains, board games and great food, or indeed any of the above, why not try it out?

Trans-Europe Cafe

Biggles in WW1

A work in progress…

Micro Machines Trains

It’s amazing what you can get on eBay these days. These are another find by my Mum who’s always on the look out for new toys for my little boys… and me 😉

TGV Sud Est Set

Micro Machines – little car models with loads of accessories, popular in the 90s and also a popular game from CodeMasters – were made by Galoob and distributed in the US and UK. There are a couple of great sites out there that list what used to be available:

Micro Machines World
Micro Machines Museum

They also made a trains collection and thanks to eBay we now have a fair amount of it. Here’s what we have at the moment:

LocomotivesBlue Loco with TenderBlack Loco with tender

Steam Locos

  • Black Loco 3283 (pictured)
  • Black Loco 601 (same as 3283 with subtle colour differences)
  • Blue Loco with Micro Machines logo on tender (pictured)

The Steam Locos are great with working side rods. They are pretty difficult to get to stay on the tracks though. The colourful wagons look great being hauled behind them.

Diesel LocosSanta Fe Diesel Loco

  • Santa Fe (GP 40)

I’m not very well informed about US railways – but this seems to be quite an ubiquitous US loco. There are no carriages for it to pull but there are some Burlington Northern Wagons

Train Sets

  • TGV Sud-Est (pictured at the top of this post)

The TGV Set comes with 5 vehicles – 2 locos and 3 carriages. The middle carriage has 2 identical couplings so that each side of the train can couple to it. This makes it a vital carriage to get if you see these sets on eBay. Some are offered without this carriage, making it impossible to make the train up properly.

WagonsTanker WagonsLumber WagonsContainer WagonsBurlington Northern WagonCoal WagonsOrange WagonMulti Colour WagonSilver CabooseRed Caboose

  • Tanker Wagons
  • Container Wagons
  • Cattle Wagons
  • Coal Wagons
  • Lumber Wagons
  • Cabooses

There are many and varied wagons available ranging from tankers to trucks, containers to cabooses.

The wagons are mostly in bright colours and are all very well made. The style of the couplings on all the Micro Machines trains means that it is not easy to make long trains up.

This is because the couplings are fairly loose – sometimes they de-couple, sometimes they all bunch up due the looseness of the coupling arms.

The couplings on the wagons seem to be held on by a screw – I wonder if it’s possible to modify them to be closer to the body of the wagon and therefore a stronger coupling. I read lots of Railway Modelling magazines but I’ve never seen any articles on modifying this series 🙂

One of the wagons – the multi coloured one below right – has a switch on the side. I think this has to do with sound or something – one Micro Machines series (Power Sound Trains) had this – however I can’t find a way of getting inside the wagon to replace the battery.

And if you think British Outline N Gauge doesn’t have very close coupling, then you haven’t seen these yet!! (See the TGV set at the top of this post for an illustration of the large gap between vehicles!)

Track

Most sets came with track – but with these items being bought from eBay, we don’t know which track came from which set. However we have more than enough straights and curves of both types.

Galoob made 2 types of track – initially with a central groove and subsequently with a wider track groove for the trains to fit in. I think we have a mixture of stock built for both types of track. Some locos and wagons don’t work so well on the later track.

We have 2 points that came with the Engine House (see below) and I know there used to be a track pack available to buy that had 2 points in. However, the trains are fairly easy to find on eBay and plenty of curves and straights of both types – not so however the points. They are rare I would say and only come up very occasionally.

AccessoriesEngine HouseStationTrestle Bridge (only one side shown)

  • Train Station
  • Trestle Bridge
  • Engine House

The Engine House is a great little add-on. Coming with 2 points, it means there is somewhere to store spare engines. It’s a shame there was never a sidings accessory to store spare wagons!

The Train Station is clearly a useful add-on – somewhere for trains to stop; a reason for them to exist! It came with a large oval of track. The picture to the right shows it with only the main structures added. The set included loads of little extras – platform furniture etc – to be added but I didn’t have time to add these before taking the photo.

The Trestle Bridge is great too – a lovely bridge for the trains to go over, and for cars to go under. It’s quite long too so it frees up lots of straight track to make a really big oval of track. The picture to the right only shows one half of the bridge.

Overall Thoughts on the Series

The locos and wagons are really well made and it’s great to have some track to run them on. The accessories really add to the series, giving the trains a good landscape to run in.

In terms of the standalone sets, I think one major omission is a level crossing – after all their main business is cars – you would think it would be a no brainer to include a level crossing! There was a sort of Super Set available (Mega Train City?) that was all pre-moulded including a level crossing. But a standalone crossing would have been better in my opinion.

Otherwise, the only thing needed is more points and buffers etc to make sidings or loops. The series is clearly meant as a train novelty for the cars series but nevertheless, just a few more additions would make it a better integrated set.

What to include in the coffee table layout?

Before you can start making a model railway layout, you have to know what you want to include as features.

My current stock is a mixture of GWR and WR stock – mainly Mk1 coaches and some Dapol Collett coaches with a variety of locos – Pannier with 1 B-Set, 14xx with Auto-coach, an old Farish Hall class, 2 Rail-cars GWR and WR, a Peco Collett Goods 0-6-0, a Farish Prairie, some coal wagons and lastly a Farish 0-6-0 BR saddle tank in Black.

I’d like to have a station on the layout but also some sidings to shunt. If there is space I’d like to have a bay terminus for the auto-train and rail-cars and a very small loco facility. Current thoughts would be for a back-scene acting as a scenic break to a 3 or 4 road fiddle yard, again space dependent. The classic tunnel or road bridge would be used to mask the scenic break.

The main problem is creating a ficticious scene but making it look believable. How would the station be reached by road traffic? How would industry be served by the sidings? Why is there a loco facility?

Space is obviously an issue with 4*2.5 even in N Gauge so there will have to be lots of planning before work can start. I’m used to planning in XTrkCad but there can be too much planning and not enough doing! I hope to post some track plan ideas here soon.

Review of ERTL’s Thomas Mini World

Here’s some thoughts about the ERTL Thomas Mini World series. I should say that this review is written from the point of view of someone more used to model railway layouts than toy trains. I think the designers of the series were thinking more of the toy element than the ability to make a layout!

Overall though, the miniature versions of the bigger ERTL collectables are great – and it’s a great series – I’d love to have seen some minor refinements though.

Track

You can’t get any better research than play testing. My eldest son loves this series and is always asking for me to set it up for him. There’s no doubt that, once set up, it’s a great toy but therein lies the problem: Setting it up. It takes ages to set it all up and the track pieces engage so tightly with the base that it’s hard to rearrange things quickly. You do have to think things through very carefully too as the geometry of the track means you need to plan exactly how the layout will work.

For example, the curves, straights and points are all ok – same geometry etc. But the small straights don’t combine to form the same length as a long straight.

In addition, those of us lucky enough to have the viaduct will find 2 problems:

  1. It can only be configured to run left/right. It would be great if it could be configured to form one side of an oval because incorporating it into a layout is decidedly difficult.
  2. The geometry is such that it is fiddly to get it back in line with the tracks to form a complete loop. I will try to get some photos to illustrate this.

Also there is only 1 type of point – basically 2 perpendicular straights that form a flat crossing, joined by a curve at one corner to form 2 joined points and a crossover. A photo will help once I get the time! This makes creating sidings impossible!

The inclines contained in the starter set are odd – the track sides are way too far apart and the engines slip sideways down them. Why didn’t they make them the same gauge as the rest of the track?

Characters

Most of the main characters are there – the ubiquitous Thomas, Percy and James plus Henry, Toby, Edward etc.

In my opinion there are some notable omissions. There’s no Gordon for starters (I’ll have to get another Henry and paint him blue!!). Also there are loads of engines but only Annie, Clarabel or the Troublesome trucks to pull. Some generic coaches for Henry or some other trucks for James would be nice. I guess it would have been asking too much for there to be a Henrietta for Toby though. Also there’s no Terence the Tractor – though I use one from another series.

Accessories

The range of accessories available through the sets is quite impressive – here’s a brief listing:

  • Station
  • Signals (Home and Distant)
  • Watermill and Windmill
  • Helipad
  • Level Crossing
  • Turntable & Engine Shed
  • Quarry and Crane
  • Viaduct
  • Tunnel
  • Water Standpipe, Coal Staithe and Water Tower
  • Static Scenery – Hills, Trees, Bushes etc

I’d have liked to see some more such as:

  • Signal Box
  • Sidings

I use a Signal Box from the predecessor to Mini World – ERTL miniatures which fits nicely!

Sets

The sets are well thought out – though there are a couple I’d question. Most are loosely based on the Thomas stories – Edward and the Viaduct referring to the cows story, Henry and the tunnel, Bertie and the level crossing referring to the race etc.

The ones I’d question are Thomas and the windmill – why make an add-on set containing a Thomas? Thomas is supplied in the main set! So anyone buying this now has a duplicate Thomas loco. Then there’s Percy and the station – again the station is now a duplicate though I suppose 2 stations isn’t a bad thing really.

However, here’s my review of all the sets:

Carry Case Playset ****

This set is a great starter set – containing enough track and accessories to keep any young child amused for ages. With Thomas, Coaches and Trevor the Traction Engine and a station and signals you have a complete railway from the outset.

Percy & Station ***

All the add-ons have an extra track base to extend the layout plus some track – either a specialised item or a curve or point. This set introduces Percy the Green engine and has a further station. So you can now have 2 stations on your layout.

Thomas & Windmill **

Ok now why the extra Thomas? Anyway the windmill is nice but just think of all the other engines they could have chosen from. Gordon? Oliver? Daisy? BoCo? An opportunity missed.

Harold & Toby ****

This is a great add-on containing 2 new characters – Harold the Helicopter and Toby. There’s a helipad for Harold but it would have been great to have a Henrietta for Toby. The beauty of this one is that Harold doesn’t need rails and can go anywhere thus extending the boundary of the Mini World to the reaches of the imagination.

Duck & Watermill ***

Introducing Duck, this set is ok. The Watermill doesn’t go round unlike the windmill and is just a static scenery item. Duck is great though – a firm favourite.

Mavis, Troublesome Trucks & Quarry ****

One of the best add-ons, this set not only introduces Mavis but also finally gives the little engines something else to pull – the troublesome trucks. The quarry item is good too with a little crane that sits inside one of the points. This is a very rare item so if you see it on eBay, be prepared to pay at least £15 if not more.

Viaduct with Edward ***

Not much to say about this one. It doesn’t come with any extra track bases but the viaduct is a beautiful structure. My previous comments about its geometry still apply but nevertheless it’s great once you can fit it into your layout. Edward is a great little engine too as he’s the 1st Thomas character from the original books.

Henry & Tunnel ****

Another rare one – Henry is a great addition and the tunnel is so simple but great for little children. I haven’t got the little brick wall as yet – eBay not coming up with this one so far. I’m also missing the Water Tower too. Contains an extra distant signal too but again, I’m missing this bit. This one’s a well rounded add-on with a new engine and a great scenery item.

Bertie & Level Crossing *****

This one’s potentially the best add-on of them all. Bertie the Bus is an old favourite of course but the level crossing is fantastic. The little gates open and close and the set includes some road sections for Bertie to run on. Finally the little railway connects with the outside world with a road. Only thing is there’s not really enough road and the set is crying out for a road bridge to allow the road and railway to cross twice. Without buying 2 sets, you end up with a road marooned in the centre of the layout with nowhere to go! But level crossings are fascinating for little children and the addition of a road means this set truly expands the play value of the whole system.

James, Turntable & Engine Shed ****

Another great add-on here. James the red Engine is one of the classics and the turntable is great – it really goes round too and leads off to a small engine shed for the engines to rest in. Easy to integrate into the layout as is simply replaces a long straight.

Thomas / ERTL Mini World

My mum discovered this on eBay while looking for other Thomas gifts and built up what is probably a complete collection. ERTL produced this toy in the mid 90s and stopped making it a few years ago. In short, it’s die-cast miniature Thomas the Tank Engine models with various characters, track and accessories.

My eldest son loves playing with it and I can’t imagine why ERTL discontinued it – or why they didn’t make more of the popular characters.

There’s next to no information on the web about it so I thought I’d compile a listing on the site to record it for posterity.

ERTL Thomas Mini World

Armchair modelling – for those of us with no time or space!

Well this is me kicking off my blog. Never done one before so bear with me.

I’m sure there are thousands of us – armchair modellers – who pore over the various track plans, railway mags and have a growing collection of rolling stock with nowhere to run!

So this blog is for us. Those with no time and certainly no space. Lets see where it goes. You never know, I may just start actually making a railway layout *shock*!

So what’s currently on my virtual workbench? Well my current line of thinking is the idea of a coffee table layout. I have a collection of old Hornby stuff from my childhood – but with no space, I started collecting N Gauge about 8 years ago and now have quite a collection of Farish, Dapol and Peco stock. I even built a baseboard – it was 4’*3′ – but it was very badly made and there was never any time to actually do anything with it! Back then I had no kids, but with 2 small boys now there’s even less time!

My eldest son loves cars, trains and anything that goes and he has been given lots of Brio / ELC stuff – I made him some tables to put it on (with help from my father in law) and he loves just making layouts. So – back to that coffee table. So the theory goes, I could build a new table for him – I’m thinking about the 4’*2.5′ sort of size – but, like a coffee table, with a shelf underneath for an N Gauge layout. It could even be like a box on legs – with his table top being the lid for my layout underneath.